The Reality behind the Myths about Trans Children: An Interview with us, Growinguptransgender

Vincent-the-Vixen-2Trans Children Myth Busting

Following recent negative news coverage, we thought it would be good to return to this interview with the LGBT children’s story publisher, Truth and Tails, in which we share our experience of raising a child who happens to be trans. We address many of the myths about Trans children, including advice for other parents, and the reasons for starting this blog.

For the first time we’ve published it here:

Background

We were interviewed by the lovely Truth & Tails, in March 2017, after they had read our blog and sent us a copy of their book ‘Vincent the Vixen’ which explores trans issues from the perspective of a gender questioning fox.

You can read the original interview in full here: Truth & Tails Interview

Interview Th

Truth & Tails: We first discovered the Growing Up Transgender blog back in October, when we read their post 10 reasons why the #dontjudgegender verdict makes families of transgender children concerned in response to a high court judge ruling on gender identity, which resulted in a seven-year-old being removed from their mother. The blog is written anonymously, to protect the family’s identity, by parents of a young transgender child living in the UK.

We spoke to the authors, about their reasons for starting the blog, what support is out there for parents of transgender children, and what the most common misconceptions are that they face day-to-day.

Tell us about the catalyst for starting the ‘Growing Up Transgender’ blog.

A few different things prompted us to start a blog. Firstly, we remembered how alone and confused we felt when we first realised our daughter might be transgender. We appreciated so much the few parents (mostly in America) who had shared their experiences online.

Secondly, we were frustrated by the huge amount of misinformation and distorted claims that are presented as fact on the internet. It took us a long time to be able to distinguish fact from fiction, and to distinguish helpful evidence based information from transphobic bigotry. Having thoroughly researched and understood the different issues, we wanted to share our understanding with others.

And thirdly, we noted a dramatic upsurge in anti-transgender children hysteria in the UK media. Fear-mongering media rhetoric has a direct impact on how adults, and in turn, their children treat our child. We felt compelled to speak out, yet also wanted to maintain our child’s privacy. A blog seemed like the best way to ensure our voices, and our experience of a wonderful trans daughter, could be shared. We hope our blog will in some way help other families dealing with this issue.

When did you realise your daughter was transgender, and how did you know? Is there a specific conversation that you remember?

Our daughter said she was a girl from a very young age. Daily. There was no one specific conversation that opened our eyes, it was more a very persistent stream of assertion over a long period of time. At first we didn’t take it seriously. We tried to dissuade. We tried to tell her she could be whatever type of boy she wanted to be. This was totally missing the point, and made her even sadder. Eventually it got to a point where we realised that we had a very depressed child, who felt rejected by her parents. We realised that we were letting her down.

What would you say to a parent who is beginning to have these sorts of conversations with their child?

Some parents worry about their boy playing with dolls, or preferring being friends with girls, or their girl rejecting dresses and wanting short hair. These behaviours that are related to how a child plays or dresses or expresses themselves are not focused on identity and there is no reason to think such children are likely to be transgender. My view would be not to narrow your child’s horizons, to allow toys to be toys and children to play however they like.

A much smaller number of parents will have the experience we have had, and other parents describe extremely similar experiences. A child who insists that they are a different gender to what you are expecting. A child who doesn’t perhaps care what toys or clothes they have as long as they are acknowledged as the gender they identify with. A child who repeats their identity consistently, persistently, insistently and gets increasingly sad and withdrawn, perhaps accompanied with concern about their body. For parents of those children, I would advise the following:

First, consider how scary and isolating it must be for a child to be repeatedly told that something they feel so deeply is unacceptable to those who love them mostly dearly. Listen to your child. Let them know that you love and accept them whatever. Let them know that you stand by them. Let them know that there are other children in the world who feel the way that they do. Let them know that some children feel like this when young, then grow up and don’t feel like this so strongly. Let them know that other children feel like this when young, then grow up and continue to feel like this and live like the gender they identify with. Let them know that both groups can grow up to have happy and well-adjusted lives. Let them know that either is ok with you. Let them know that they are not alone.

Secondly, find out more about the subject. Read as much as you can. But bear in mind that there is a vast quantity of material on the internet that is immensely transphobic; that is misleading, and even outright lies, and that may make you feel desperately scared for the future. I’d suggest reading some blogs by parents who are supporting their child in their gender identity, to understand that the worst-case scenario that you are fearing for your child really isn’t as bleak as you may be fearing. Our child has gone from a deeply sad to one of the happiest children you could meet since we told her we accepted her as a girl.

Thirdly, get some support for yourself as a parent.

What support is out there in the UK for parents of transgender children, and where have you personally found most support?

For us, the best source of support by a mile is other parents of transgender children. Find a way to reach out to other parents, for us it was through the charity Mermaids. Channels such as Mermaids provide a secure forum for parents to speak directly to each other, to provide a non-judgemental ear, to share experience, to be a shoulder to cry on. Many parents describe coming to terms with a child being transgender as a form of grief. Parents are often completely ignorant of the issue, and often have bleak views on the prospects for their child having a positive future.

In time, in person or virtually, parents come across remarkable trans young people and adults, and learn that with acceptance and support the outcome for trans children today is bright and hopeful. But that doesn’t immediately negate the very strong emotions that parents go through, particularly when they are doubting how to proceed, and particularly when they are facing judgement, criticism and hate from a wider society – including their own friends and family – who may not be willing to understand. Finding a support network, particularly if your own friends and family are not supporting you, is extremely important.

For transgender children approaching puberty, being registered in the UK Gender Identity Service for children at the Tavistock can be critical in case medical intervention (hormone blockers) is required. Waiting lists are extremely long: nine months from GP referral to first appointment and procedures once in the system are prolonged. Don’t wait until things are at a point of desperation to get a referral into the medical system. Better to get a referral a couple of years before puberty and pull out if you don’t later need it than delay referral and enter the waiting list at puberty when a two-year wait might become a major problem. Some GPs are supportive, many GPs are ignorant and unhelpful. Request a referral to Tavistock if you feel your child is transgender, and don’t let an ignorant GP tell you no.

What is the most common misconception about transgender children that you encounter, and what is your response?

There are so many misconceptions about transgender children that we wrote a whole blog on this topic! You can read it here.

The most common ones are:

Myth: Transgender children do not exist.
Reality: Yes, they do.

Myth: This is a modern, Western fad.
Reality: Transgender people have existed in societies throughout the centuries across the world, and there are millions of transgender people across Asia.

Myth: Parents are choosing this for their children to be trendy.
Reality: As a parent who has cried and cried buckets coming to terms with having a transgender child, I can assure you I would never have chosen this – although now I’m finally less ignorant I don’t in any way see it as the terrible path I once feared.

Myth: Kids who are just non-conforming (e.g. a boy who like dolls) are being pushed into being transgender
Reality: My child didn’t care what toys she played with as long as she was acknowledged as a girl. No one is pushing our children. This is just who they are.

Myth: Children are too young to make a life changing decision.
Reality: My child has not made a decision. They have not decided to change gender. They have always known they were a girl, it just took the rest of us a long time to catch up.

Myth: Transgender children can be turned into non-transgender children if you do X, Y, Z
Reality: There is no evidence for that, and a great deal of evidence that reparative therapy causes a great deal of damage.

Myth: Transgender children are likely to grow out of it.
Reality: Perhaps, but there is no clear evidence for this, and statistics quoted on this subject are extremely dodgy – read with care.

Myth: Transgender children/people will have sad and suicidal lives.
Reality: Emotional challenges experienced by transgender people are due to the hate and prejudice they face, not an inherent part of being transgender. Transgender children who are supported and accepted by their families are shown to have the same levels of mental health and well-being as other children.

What advice would you give to parents – not just parents with transgender children, but parents everywhere – around educating their children about gender and acceptance?

The world is a complex and diverse place. The more parents that share this diversity with their children, the more that let children know that it is ok to be different, the better for us all. Teaching love and acceptance will directly benefit your child too – at some point in everyone’s life they feel that they are different or an outsider – and having taught your child that difference is ok will stand your child in good stead whenever they find themselves on the outside.

Which children’s’ books about gender would recommend?

There is definitely a lack of books for younger children about gender. We’ve found many more interesting reads that have the central message that diversity is not only ok, but should be celebrated. We’re still finding our way a bit on books specifically about transgender children and haven’t found many our child identifies with, at least not in their entirety – however well-intentioned, books about boys who like dresses can sometimes perpetuate stereotypes of gender divide.

For young children, we like:
Red, A Crayon’s Story – Michael Hall
Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly – Nick Sharratt
Vincent the Vixen – Truth and Tails (our daughter has loved this book)

For older children:
Lily and Dunkin – Donna Gephart

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About Truth & Tails:

Truth & Tails are a publisher who aim to write stories for young children in a straightforward, sensitive, and easy way. They seek to explain difficult concepts like feminism, racism, gender, and sexuality to children, and believe in the strength of stories to help children  grow up with a sense of understanding, empathy, and acceptance of those who are different to them.

 

 

 

An Open Message of Solidarity to Parents of Trans kids in the USA

Yesterday our family watched in sadness and fear Trump’s callous and cruel actions against transgender children.

We, and fellow parents of transkids in the UK wanted to reach out in solidarity with parents of transkids in the US, to let you know that we are thinking of you, and to send you words of love and strength and support from across the Atlantic.

Some of the battles we face are different; many are so very similar. Most importantly we share in common our pride and admiration for our amazing transgender children. They deserve so much better than they are getting at the moment – we can, we must, and we will change the world, to make sure that the struggles our children face today will be resigned to history books by the time they reach adulthood.

The world is gradually moving in the right direction. For so long the USA (in some areas) has been ahead of the UK, a beacon of what we can hope for in terms of acceptance, affirmation and support for transkids. Clearly Trump now is trying to move the world backwards, but this tide is not going to turn. Together, with courage, love and support we will continue to change our world.

We were particularly moved to reach out by words of fear and sadness from three brave and truly inspirational parents of trans children – Debi Jackson, Marlo Mack and Ron JR Ford (the former two speaking together on the phenomenal ‘How to be a Girl’ podcast and the latter speaking about his daughter from the steps of the Whitehouse). All three of these courageous and ground-breaking parents mean such an indescribably great deal to our family. They have put themselves out there (and in a way that we have felt unable).

We came across these inspirational parents at a time when our own family was questioning if, and how, to accept our young transgender daughter and we were desperately searching for answers and knowledge that couldn’t be found in obsolete psychological journals. From half-way across the world, the experience of these families and their children almost exactly mirrored that of our child. We no longer felt like we were alone in the world. It was their lived example, and shared stories in podcasts, blogs, videos, and interviews, which gave us the necessary confidence to support our daughter and fight for her right to be accepted for who she is. It also helped us to search for others closer to home where we found support from the amazing parents in Mermaids UK.

Deciding to accept and support our daughter was, in hindsight, so clearly and obviously the best decision ever. Our trans daughter is now the happiest, most confident and care-free child, so different from her life before.  We truly don’t know if we could have found the strength to do this without the example set by the three of you and your families, who had trodden that very same path before us and made the way that much clearer.

From the bottom of our hearts, Thank You, for all that you do. From the two of us, and from all the other parents of trans kids in the UK we appreciate you; we are indebted to you; we stand by you; we are so proud of you and to the US #transkids superheroes including Jazz Jennings and Gavin Grimm who are role models to our child.

While we all felt alone once, know that you will never be alone again. In this defining battle for civil rights in the 21st Century, we stand shoulder to shoulder, fighting for our children on this side of the world as you are fighting on yours. Together we will keep changing the world for the better.

All our love and a big hug from fellow parents from the UK to all parents of trans kids in the USA (and anyone, anywhere, in the world with #transkids)

 

p.s. If you ever visit the UK, we will make you very welcome.

 

X

 

If you haven’t seen these you should definitely check out:

How to Be a Girl Podcast at GenderMom.com by Marlo Mack (@gendermom)

“That’s Good Enough” speech by Debi Jackson (@the_debijackson)

JR, Father of Trans Daughter, Speaks at #ProtectTransKids Rally [and mum Vanessa!](@VanessaFordDC)

Gender Revolution: A Journey With Katie Couric  National Geographic Documentary

Mermaids UK Supporting Children Young People and their Families (@Mermaids_Gender)

HRC (Human Rights Campaign) and their amazing Guide for Supporting and Caring for Transgender Children

If you want to keep up with our blog please do subscribe. You can find us on twitter and follow @DadTrans (We do this thing together, but Mum mostly writes the blog and Dad mostly does the social networking bit 🙂 )

 

Transgender children need Stonewall’s support: SOME CHILDREN ARE TRANS. GET OVER IT!

Feedback on Stonewall ‘A Vision for Change’ – Parent’s perspective.

We warmly welcome Stonewall’s commitment to transgender advocacy. This consultation is a very timely opportunity to build a strong coalition to fight for the rights of transgender people. There is much good in the document.  Alongside appointment of a Trans Advisory Group in 2015, and recent recruitment of a Head of Trans Equality, it demonstrates Stonewall’s new commitment to Transgender equality adding the missing T to their excellent work on LGB.

Stonewall has had a lot of trust to recoup with the Trans community. It is right that this document was not written by Stonewall itself but by the arms length Trans Advisory Group. Written by Trans people for Trans people the Vision statement provides a foundation and mandate for action.

There does however appear to be a missing voice – that of transgender children and their parents.  As non trans people, parents of transgender children (unless trans themselves) are unable to attend the five planned consultation meetings. The two-week window to feed back comments in writing or by phone, is also short, and those with busy lives (and I think this would include all parents of trans children), may find it difficult to input.

Following publication of the Vision on Monday evening, we spoke to other parents with transgender children, mainly those supported by Mermaids, which helped to shape our thoughts on the document. We shared these with other parents and then submitted detailed comments (below) to Stonewall. We also sent a copy to Susie Green CEO of Mermaids.

Please note, this feedback is intended to complement rather than detract from the much needed work outlined in the Vision. We’ve focused upon the references to trans-children (or their absence where we think they need inclusion) . While critical, the comments come from a good place. We are simply parents who want to do the best for their children.

We’re now asking  for advocates from the Trans community to read this feedback, and take forward these comments, in person if possible, to the consultation meetings we are unable, as parents, to attend. 

Transgender children are one of the most vulnerable groups of transgender people. Transgender children cannot themselves lead or achieve the changes that they need. Supportive parents of transgender children are in a unique position to raise the voices of our children, and need to be explicitly included in this dialogue.

Supportive parents of transgender children are some of the most well-informed, passionate and motivated allies for transgender people, but we are often unable to speak publically (to protect our children). We need allies like Stonewall. Working in partnership we will achieve far more than working in isolation.

We hope this can be the start of a dialogue and partnership between parents of transgender children and Stonewall.

Key Recommendations

  • Explicitly acknowledge the existence of transgender children in this document and explicitly acknowledge your support for transgender children. (Comment 1, C4, C8, C9, C21, C32).
  • Work with parents of transgender children to improve critical sections of this document. (C2, C14, C24, C25).
  • Work in partnership with parents of transgender children, and invite both a parent of a transgender teenager, and a parent of a transgender child to join the steering team, with an explicit remit to represent the concerns and needs of transgender children. (C15, C22, C30, C33)
  • Acknowledge the significant challenges (prejudice, hate, discrimination) faced by transgender children. (C5, C10, C11, C12, C13, C26).
  • Propose concrete ways in which Stonewall will help transgender children. (C3, C6, C7, C20, C23, C27, C28, C30, C31),
  • Avoid repeating and reinforcing prejudicial and damaging attitudes towards transgender children in this document. (C16, C17, C18, C19, C29
  • Embrace this opportunity to build a coalition with a group of very motivated trans allies (supportive parents of transgender children).

Detailed Comments

Comment 1 (C1):P. 4. Shared Mission: The mission statement does not seem to include trans children, one of the most vulnerable trans groups. Add ‘schools’ to ensure it is clear that trans children are important trans people.

C2: p.5 The document is ‘driven by trans people and achieved by trans people’. My daughter is a vulnerable and important trans person. She cannot drive the changes that she needs. As her parent I need to be her advocate. Trans-children are a group who are uniquely unable to drive and achieve the changes they need. Allies for trans-children (of whom parents and organisations like Mermaids are an important component) need to be part of this dialogue and this agenda, otherwise the important needs of trans-children will be overlooked (as seems to have been the case in this document). Do you have a member of the steering group on the panel as an advocate for trans-children? Of course all trans adults were once trans children, but the experiences and problems of trans-children (particularly those who are early transitioners and openly trans) may be quite different to the experiences and problems that adults had in a different time when they were children.

C3: Amplifying voices. Important to add here that Stonewall will raise the voices of those who can’t speak openly. This is particularly relevant for children and their parents, who are very isolated and can’t speak openly as we need to protect our children.

C4: p. 6 Transforming institutions. Says improving services and workplaces. Suggests people become trans at age 18. Absolutely needs to include schools as the institution where our trans-children spend most of their time. Change to “Improving services, schools and workplaces’. Avoiding mentioning schools (and therefore children) here perpetuates a culture of denial of the existence of trans-children. Bullying at school (including by teachers and other parents) can be horrific. A transgender child was recently shot at school (in the UK) simply for being trans after months of sustained bullying. Schools cannot be omitted here.

C5: p. 12 Representation in media. Media coverage of trans-children is horrific. Yet this is not even mentioned. Harmful media messages about trans-children not existing causes direct damage to trans-children.

C6: Network of allies – National campaign to educate the general population doesn’t mention the need to educate the general population about trans-children, around which there are so many misconceptions and so much fear.

C7: p.12 Challenge transphobia – research needs to encompass the experiences of trans-children.

C8: Language – the document has not once used the term ‘trans-children’. This is part of a wider societal culture of fear and prejudice where the existence of trans-children is denied. If even a stonewall trans advocacy document cannot be brave enough and say ‘yes there are trans children’ then what hope have we got. Using the term ‘young people’ and avoiding the term trans children very much suggests that being trans is a choice that can be made by competent (Gillick competent) teenagers/young adults. My child is certainly a child. They have not chosen to be trans it is who they are. Avoiding the term trans-children is insipid and perpetuates a culture of denial of trans-children’s existence.

C9: p. 15 Institutions. In the heading the word school is again omitted (it definitely needs adding). In the subtext the term ‘in school’ finally appears. First implicit acknowledgement that trans-children exist in the document?

C10: p.16 Criminal justice. No mention of social services investigating parents who support their child in their gender identity. No mention of justice system discriminating against parents who support their child in their gender identity. Both critical issues for transgender children and supportive families (especially in child custody disputes). Nor indeed is there any mention here of the legal rights of transgender children themselves.

C11: p. 17 Faith schools worth a mention here as a particular area for discrimination.

C12: p. 17 There are specific challenges for trans-children in the healthcare system that are not acknowledged here.

C13: P, 17 Sport. Some sporting bodies have trans policies that require information on hormone levels in order to compete, some require “evidence of SRS” or a formal assessment by a board. This clearly is unreasonable for trans-children and creates situations were trans children are prevented from accessing sport either through explicit exclusion or implicitly made unwelcome.

C14: p.18 Young people and education. This section is extremely weak. By far the weakest section of the whole report. I can make some comments but this really needs a significant overhaul and input from a wider group of trans child advocates.

C15: The weakness of this section makes me wonder how well the current working group is representing the experience and needs of trans-children. Do you have any members of the working group nominated specifically to represent the interests of trans-children. A parent of a trans-child (where the parent may or may not be trans themselves) would be an important addition to a working group otherwise the voices of trans-children will be lost (as I fear they have been in this current draft).

C16: Why is this section talking predominantly about gender stereotypes, and about gender expression, and gender roles and colours/toys/clothes. This is extremely worrying.

C17: Of course gender stereotypes are unhelpful – this is not an issue that is specific to trans-children, nor specific to trans-people – it is a broad issue affecting everyone. There is no reason to have a section on gender stereotypes in a section on trans-children. My trans-daughter thought she couldn’t be a pirate captain as she is a girl – so yes gender stereotypes are a problem for everyone, including for trans-children, but this is not the issue to be focused upon in a section on how Stonewall can best support trans-children.

C18: Likewise, there is no reason to talk about gender expression or toys, or clothes,0 or gender roles, or fitting with gender stereotypes in this section. This plays into a deeply harmful cultural narrative that assumes ‘transgender children’ are not really transgender but just like wearing different clothes or toys or colours or don’t fit with traditional stereotypes and are being pushed (by transgender activists) into being transgender when they are really just non-conforming. This is all irrelevant for transgender children like mine who don’t give a damn what toys or clothes they have as long as they are recognised as a girl. For trans-children like mine who knew they were trans way before they had any understanding of gender stereotypes.

C19: The section here on ‘people exploring their gender identity and how they fit with traditional gender stereotypes’ is deeply patronising and unhelpful. Would you put this stuff in the adult transgender section? I don’t think so. Talking about gender non-conforming or questioning children who reconcile their questions’ is deeply unhelpful and plays into a cultural narrative that discredits children knowing who they are, and talks about it being a ‘phase’. Gender non-conforming children who reconcile their questions are not trans-children – they do not need emphasis here. I like the stonewall poster ‘some people are trans/gay – get over it’. I’d like more bravery here ‘some children are trans – get over it’. There seems here to be fear to acknowledge the existence of trans-children. This hesitancy wouldn’t be reasonable in the adults section of this document, and shouldn’t be present here. There are trans-children in this world, and they face serious issues (hate, discrimination, prejudice).

C20: This section needs to discuss the serious issues that trans-children face, and talk about how Stonewall is going to help this extremely vulnerable group.

C21: Furthermore, the term ‘young people’ is too vague. As mentioned above, the term ‘transgender children (no matter what their age)’ would be better. Or perhaps ‘transgender children and transgender teenagers’. Otherwise it seems like this document is denying the existence of transgender children (and if you don’t acknowledge they even exist, how are you possibly going to help them?).

C22: The section on LGBT mentions the hostility or confusion towards the trans community within the LGB community. As a parent of a young trans child I’m aware that a minority of trans adults are themselves sometimes ill-informed or and unsupportive to the needs of trans-children. Some trans adults are sceptical of the need to support and help trans-children. There cannot be an automatic assumption that trans adults will always understand or advocate for trans children, and I think it is worth acknowledging.

C23: p.19 The key recommendation on how stonewall is going to help my transgender child is to avoid gender stereotypes. This belittles the genuine challenges my transgender child faces, and is not in any way a good enough recommendation given the mountain of challenges my child will face before they reach adulthood.

C24: This section needs starting again.

Service Providers

C25: p.22 This section does not acknowledge the particular challenges in the Gender Identity service for children. There are many specific issues that could be acknowledged and addressed if this was developed in consultation with those who support transgender children. This needs to consider how the system works for children of all ages, not just for those old enough to access medical interventions. Fostered trans children and young people face particular challenges and aren’t mentioned in the document.

C26: Particularly this section does not consider the issues around the gatekeeper role that the children’s GIDS service plays to approve or deny access to medical interventions. Practices that are (hopefully) considered unacceptable in adult services are standard in children’s services, with much questioning of why the child has chosen that they would prefer to be a girl, intrusive questioning about genitals, parents being blamed for ‘causing’ their child to be transgender, children being told they are not dressing or acting sufficiently in their affirming gender role to be properly transgender, or children being told they are not sufficiently upset with parts of their anatomy to be properly transgender. Panels of medical professionals make decisions for which there is no appeal. This is in addition to timescales and protocols that are arbitrary and damaging. In addition, in a monopolised and unaccountable system, parents of transgender children are afraid to complain for fear it will damage their child’s support. There needs to be a system put in place for complaints from parents about the children’s GID service to be effectively dealt with.

C27: Also the final wording ‘New models of care, which don’t require psychiatric diagnosis as their foundation, should be explored’ brings to mind the wording of the government response to the Women’s and Equalities select committee report which was full of issues ‘to be explored’. Not a helpful thing to bring to mind, when what is needed is action not ‘further exploration’.

C28: p.24 A better section. Note, this is the only page in the entire 37 page document which uses the term “trans children”. The text is fine, though a bit vague on what are the very many problems and what are the issues that Stonewall plans to help tackle.

It needs to talk more about the crunch issues ‘right to wear uniform, right to use toilet, right to be addressed by preferred name and pronoun (without a deed pole or Dr’s permission), right to change gender marker on record, right to be safe, right not to be persecuted, responsibility of school to protect from bullying, responsibility of school to help other pupils understand, right to socially transition at any age without medical permission etc etc. The current text is too vague and avoids many key issues.

C29: Again the section blurs the ‘children exploring gender identity’ and transgender children topic. The adults section does not devote space to adults questioning gender identity – it focuses on what are the needs of trans adults. The children’s section should similarly prioritise the needs of transgender children (many things that will help transgender children in schools will also help gender questioning children, but to merge the two adds to the confusion around whether transgender children exist (ie some people want to put all children into the gender questioning category, as if you have to be an adult to be actually transgender – pretending they don’t exist is deeply unhelpful for addressing the needs of transgender children.

C30: p. 26. Great to hear about the #Stonewall education research project. Would be good to see commitment that this will mean understanding the experience of transgender children of all ages, in both primary and secondary school. It will be unlikely that this research will be appropriate to directly speak with primary school children like my daughter, in which case this research will explicitly need to reach out to and include the parents of transgender children, otherwise an important voice will be lost.

C31: The Stonewall training will sit alongside existing stonewall LGB trainings. I imagine (I do not have expertise here) that most LGB trainings are aimed at secondary school age? For transgender children, unlike LGB children, there are transgender children in schools and pre-schools from as young as age 3. How is the Stonewall education programme being adapted to ensure transgender components support primary age transgender children? Many schools are in denial about having young transgender children (until they have a young child transition, at which point they go into panic and melt down).

C32: Unless you have a clear policy on the existence of transgender young children, you will not be able to support the schools that are unconvinced of the existence of transgender young children.

C33: p.26 Great to see this commitment to work with #Mermaids. I’m a member of Mermaids and fellow parents who I have met through Mermaids have been the only support at all we have had on this very lonely journey as a parent of a transgender child. We need organisations like Mermaids and Stonewall to work together to help our transgender children.

Thank you for taking the time to read this submission.

We look forward to hearing more about the consultation.

Sticks and Stones

Another week, another article on transgender children and their “crazy” / “abusive”/ “attention seeking” parents. Even when articles are not actively offensive and transphobic (as so very many are), they retain a heavy tone of scepticism and judgement. And then I get down to the comments section…

I know I shouldn’t look. I know there’s nothing there I want to see. I know I will leave in tears. But somehow, I can’t help myself. Partly, I want to learn what views are being shared, to try to understand what people are saying and, once I start, I’m so horrified, I’m unable to look away. A bigger driver though, is the knowledge that in a few years’ time my child will be the one on the internet. She won’t be able to look away, and I won’t be able to protect her. And the hurt I feel now will be nothing compared to the hurt she will feel when she realises how the world views her. It breaks my heart.

Parenting a transgender child seems to be a particularly lonely road. The vile and vicious comments under Daily Mail articles about transgender children and their families, are matched on the Guardian, on Mumsnet, even on supposedly LGBT friendly sites like Gay Star News. Parents of transgender children are harshly judged and attacked from the right and from the left. From traditional conservatives and from radical feminists. From religious fundamentalists and sections of the LGB exclusionary parts of LGBT+.  At times it feels overwhelming. Hopeless.

Sometimes, when I’ve pulled myself up from despair, I wonder whether, if I could just find the energy to respond to the thousands of hateful comments, perhaps I could open a few minds. Help move society a few tiny millimetres in the direction it needs to go in for my child to be happy, to be accepted, to be safe. I know I won’t overcome some people’s strongly felt prejudice, but maybe if I could explain a bit more, try a bit harder, maybe there are some people who could learn that my child is not a threat, that I am not a failure as a parent, that we just want our daughter to be left alone to enjoy the childhood she deserves without this constant stream of vitriol.

I decided to take another look at the comment sections (the majority from a recent Guardian online article), to try to understand what drives people to write such hurtful things. To break through the insults and hate and try to gain an insight into why so very many people find accepting my child so intolerable. Then to give a personal response to those comments, away from the collective pile on which often occurs when someone is brave enough to try to confront, explain, or simply give examples of their lived experience. (I’ve purposefully tried to give a personal response, rather than lots of sources, however if you are looking for more examples of evidence or reading then please do look for examples in our last blog post: GIDS.NHS.UK All the support a parent needs….)

I take a big breath, and leave a warning to parents and transgender individuals who are having a tough day. If you are feeling a bit vulnerable today, have a hug, watch this video of a ninja cat instead,  move on and smile and know that some people are so very firmly in your corner and the world is slowly moving in the right direction. I strongly believe that all those haters are on the wrong side of history.

And for those of you who are feeling up for it (or who, like me, find it impossible to look away), here we go:

‘I was a tom boy when I was a child’. ‘My brother borrowed my dresses when he was a child’

  • This is not relevant. ‘Tomboy’ usually describes girls who are perceived to enjoy stereotypically male activities or toys or friends. This is not being transgender, and nobody is claiming it is. Being transgender is not about what toys you play with, or what activities you prefer, or how you behave or how you dress or who you play with. It is about the identity that these children feel deep inside. I know this is a very difficult concept to grasp and it may not make sense to anyone who does not themselves feel any particularly strong gender identity, but to these children it is more important than anything else. It can become the driving focus of their life (right up until they are accepted, and then they often become like any other child). The thing that matters more than anything else to them is to be acknowledged and accepted as the gender that they know themselves to be.

‘I was a tom boy or a not very macho boy – If this had been around when I was young I would have been made to be transgender.

  • I don’t think that is at all likely. Girls who are ‘tom boys’ and boys who do not conform to stereotypically male ‘norms’ are not likely to be referred to a gender identity clinic – and if they were it would be pretty quick to find out how they identify. Unless you felt very strongly that you were a boy and were desperately sad about being called a girl over a prolonged period of time, your experience is not relevant to this topic. The children who transition tend to be ones for whom gender identity is the main thing that dominates their happiness. They also tend to have a deep feeling of sadness around their gender identity. Unless you were a child who was extremely sad every night saying ‘I am a boy’ or ‘I am a girl’, it is not likely you would be being supported to socially transition. The young children who socially transition have really fought for this, against a world that tells them they are wrong. They have insisted over a long period of time that this is who they are.

‘I used to want to be a boy’ ‘I used to call myself a boy and I’m not transgender’

  • For children who are potentially confused, counselling can help them work out whether they are thinking life would be easier as a boy because of their frustration about limited gender roles or limited society opportunities for women, or suffocating expectations of what it means to be a women (and vice versa for boys who do not fit into the masculine ‘norm’). For anyone to feel that they do not fit in is very sad. I hope any such children can be met with kindness and understanding. There is no fixed destination. There is no conveyor belt. What all gender non-conforming children need, like what transgender children need, is more love and openness and acceptance. Of course we don’t want gender confused children to be pushed into a path that is not right for them. But to protect gender non-confirming and gender confused children, we do not need to stamp out the rights and the hope and the wellbeing of children like mine who are not one tiny bit confused, who know who they are and just want acceptance and room to exist.

‘It is a money making scheme for big pharmaceuticals and profit hungry doctors – keeping patients on drugs for life’.

  • My child has not heard of big pharmaceuticals. She does not yet understand about hormones or any medical interventions. She does however know that she is a girl.

‘It is a trend’. ‘These children think this is a way to be famous and cool’

  • Transgender children are very likely to get bullied or socially isolated. Many are victims of hate crimes. Most transgender children desperately want to fit in and be accepted as one of the other children. This is not a path to being famous and cool  My child genuinely though she was the only child in the world to have felt this way. She had never heard of transgender. She didn’t know what being cool or famous meant. (Though as a proud parent, my child will always be cool to me).

‘Parents are doing it for attention’

  • I can’t imagine many parents wanting this type of attention, by which I mean constantly being judged and shunned and told you are a terrible parent. Losing friends and family members and feeling very alone. I certainly would never in a million years have chosen this. In fact the opposite is true, many parents shy away from attention, close their social media, try to avoid the inevitable and frequent difficult conversations. The majority of stories in the press are not self-serving, they are from parents who feel duty bound to raise awareness with the intention of de-stigmatising transgender children to make society a safer place for their child. Our family couldn’t do it, but I thank them for being brave enough to speak out for us all.

‘My child once or twice told me they were a girl when they were little. I said ‘don’t be silly Billy you are a boy. Aren’t I an amazing parent? If only these stupid parents/mums had followed my example’

  • Many parents of transgender children spend months and years telling their child, ‘no you are not a boy you are a girl’, often until the child shuts down and stops raising the issue (while still feeling miserable inside). In our house this was a daily conversation for over 6 months. Please don’t bring your crappy example of having told your child a handful of times and insinuate that we have somehow failed. Your child is not transgender. My child was so fixated on asserting their gender identity that it dominated and damaged their life for that time. The guilt of not supporting her then is on us. The children that continue to vocally (insistently and persistently) assert a transgender identity do so against a huge heap of societal and family pressure telling them they are wrong.

‘So-called trans-women are really men who are pretending to be women so that they can invade women’s spaces to rape women’

  • I’m always taken aback when I read this, and it comes up time and again in spite of a complete absence of credible evidence that this has ever occurred. My child is young. My child is not invading women’s spaces to rape women. This is not only absurd, not only deeply offensive and hurtful, it is also incredibly damaging. It conjures up the idea that ‘normal’ people should be afraid of transgender people. That they are different and can’t be trusted and our children (and women) need protecting from them. Well, my beautiful child, who is one of the kindest sweetest children you could meet, needs protecting from this kind of hate.

‘If gender identity can’t be seen, defined or objectively measured then it can’t be real or need supporting’

  • So emotions or feelings or thoughts don’t exist either. Or anything to do with identity or who you are. None of these are valid. I can’t define the fact that I like smarties, therefore that can’t be true. I can’t see whether you feel happy, so happiness isn’t a real thing. We don’t understand consciousness, so that doesn’t exist either. This argument is highly flawed.

‘This is body mutilation’

  • Thanks for that sensationalist statement. Why can’t people choose want they want to do with their own bodies without you getting so outraged? There are no operations related to transitioning before the age of 18, when they are adults, and can choose for themselves. Many transgender people do not choose to have surgery. Many non-transgender people change their bodies (eg tattoos, plastic surgery, breast augmentation/reduction etc) for a variety of reasons some aesthetic, some medical. I’m scared shitless about my daughter potentially having surgery one day, but I’d be anxious about any surgery. I’m going to do my very best to try to support her being comfortable in her own body without the need for surgery but I’m not naive, and know that for many transgender people, surgery is vital treatment for their gender and body dysphoria. I will support her in whatever she may choose to do.

‘Children naturally grow out of it’

‘80% do not persist as they mature’

‘It is just a phase’

  • When talking about transgender children the statistic of 80% of children not ‘persisting’ is often repeated but total and utter nonsense. The few studies underpinning it, have been thoroughly debunked. The key thing these studies have in common is that they grouped gender non-conforming children (the majority surveyed, highly unlikely to be transgender, often grow up gay) in with cross-gender identifying children (a small minority of the surveyed group, highly likely to be transgender, no more or less likely to be gay). The Meta analysis of these studies are also intrinsically flawed as they simply collate all the previous rubbish studies. This means the numbers we have are meaningless for predicting the future path for children like mine who, from a very young age, has consistently and very persistently stated that they are a different gender to the one assigned at birth. The most recent evidence finds that children who very strongly identify as a different gender will continue to do so and will not grow out of it. Yes more research is needed, to give a better steer on ‘persistence’, but the 80% figure should be treated as a research phase that we have naturally grown out of as we’ve matured.

 ‘Let them decide when they are 18’

  • Comments like this actually helped me decide to accept my daughter as a girl. She was miserable for years before we supported her. She felt extremely rejected by us and by others in her life. She cried every single day. Since we accepted her as a girl, and helped her be acknowledged by others as a girl, she has been so happy. So very happy. Every day. Why should a parent force their child to be miserable every day for years (for 15 years if you were to have your way!). A parent needs a very good reason to keep their child in a state of sadness and rejection, when the only thing you need to do to support your child to say ‘I love you whatever’ and to change the name, pronoun and noun that you use. We have not yet got to puberty, and making decisions then will be tough. But if our daughter at puberty still feels like she has since age 3, then she will have our full support to help her avoid the wrong puberty and have the right puberty for her gender.

‘why would a parent make this decision. Crazy’

‘Just wait’

‘The best course of action would be for parents not to make any decisions at all’

  • This shows little understanding of what it is like to parent a transgender child. Life is full of decisions. Before making the extremely difficult and heart-breaking decision to support my child, for months I made the decision to say ‘I love you, but no, you are not a girl you are a boy’ and watched their sad face. For months later, when they said ‘I am a girl’ I decided to change the subject or look away. For months further I avoided directly calling them a boy but decided to sit in silence as others called them a boy and I watched their shoulders hunch in and the sad look of rejection on their face. For months further I sat with them at bedtime as they cried and listened to them say ‘but I am a girl’ and I decided not to say ‘that is ok, we love you whatever’. Life with a very insistent transgender child is full of difficult and painful and troubling decisions for a parent who cares deeply for their child. Making a decision finally to say ‘that’s ok, we love you whatever’ was the latest in a very long line of decisions. Which eventually moved on to ‘ok, we’ll call you a girl’, and ‘ok, we’ll help others to call you a girl’ and ‘ok, we’ll help others to understand you are a girl’. We do not wake up one morning and think, wouldn’t it be fun to choose this incredibly hard and traumatic path for our children.

‘Just teach them to be happy as they are’

  • I really, really tried. It didn’t work. They got sadder and sadder. And feeling rejected by your parents is very tough. Feeling that your parents love you, but the way you feel is so unacceptable that your parents cannot bring themselves to properly accept you, is very tough on a child. We all want our children to be happy. We all want our children to have an easy path in life. This is not an easy path. But my child is now so very happy, long may it remain so. The main thing that threatens my child’s happiness is not potential future medical interventions, but the hate and anger that they receive. I wonder if, in a world of greater acceptance for transgender people, would fewer transgender people choose medical interventions? If it was more feasible to have a non-typical body and still be referred to by the pronoun and identity that a person feels. I can’t see that acceptance happening any time soon. If you care about my child’s happiness, please stop denying their existence and trivialising what it has taken us to get to this point.

‘Don’t label children’

  • Our world and our language is full of labels. If you genuinely want a world without labels, then please put your energy into trying to avoid these boxes and labels everywhere, don’t focus your energy on a very powerless and vulnerable group of children who just happen to not fit into the boxes and traditional labels that the world is accustomed to.

‘It’s all because of gender segregated parenting. The parents had too fixed ideas of what boys and girls could act like or play with’

‘It’s all this gender neutral parenting. They haven’t taught their child what gender they are’

  • Parents of transgender children get hit with contradictory accusations. Either we were parenting with too rigid stereotypical gender norms, or our parenting was too gender neutral. We hear this all the time and everyone seems very happy to share their opinion with us. The one thing that is quickly obvious when you get a group of parents of transgender children together, is the huge diversity. It is a bit like jury service. There is no common denominator between the parents. The weight of scientific evidence is also clear, including the Lancet, no less, that there is no evidence of a link between parenting and whether or not a child is transgender.

‘Young children can’t make a decision to change gender’

‘How can a young child know about transgender. What on earth are you teaching them?’

‘I wouldn’t trust a 5 year old to choose what to have for dinner let alone their gender’

  • People really don’t understand this at all. My child had never heard of transgender. They never made a decision to change gender. They always, from the moment they could speak, said they were a girl (they were presumed male at birth). They knew they were a girl before they knew most things about the world. They knew it instinctively. They knew it, despite the fact that their parents, and everyone in the world told them they were a boy. They knew it, and insisted upon it time after time, despite being told in no uncertain terms that they were wrong. They never decided to change gender. They never have changed gender. The change has not been within them, the change has been the rest of us, coming to understand what their truth is, and coming to accept it. Our child has not changed, we as parents have changed and reset our understanding of our child. How our child developed a strong gender identity that they were a girl, I really do not know. But the thing is, hundreds of children up and down the country and thousands world-wide have had the same experience. There have been transgender people throughout the world, throughout the centuries, and many of those transgender people recall having known their gender identity from a young age.

‘These are mentally unwell children, we shouldn’t fuel their delusion’

  • For many decades transgender people were classified as mentally unwell. Enormous pressure was put on them to conform, to change their view. This has led to some particularly awful outcomes for some transgender people who have had very tough lives. Lives far tougher than anyone would wish on their child. The medical consensus is that attempting to persuade people to identify as the gender they were assigned at birth is both unethical, and ineffective. Being transgender is being taken out of being classified as a mental health issue. Unsurprisingly, there is now increasing evidence that when transgender people are accepted, loved and supported, they have normal levels of mental health and wellbeing.

‘This is backward, we should be breaking down gender barriers and stereotypes’

‘Instead of supporting these children, let’s overthrow gender norms instead’

  • Breaking down gender boxes and stereotypes will be a great thing for very many children, including for transgender children. If this is what you care about, focus your attention on breaking down gender boxes and stereotypes in society at large, don’t focus your attention on a marginalised group of vulnerable children. And if in your vision for a freer society you agree that people should still be free to describe themselves as a girl, then allow transgender children this freedom as well.

‘Those parents are senseless liberals inflicting horrendous damage on their child with this trendy transgender ideology’; ‘those parents were far too liberal letting their child call the shots when they should have been more strict’; ‘Those parents were far too strict, couldn’t relax and let their children play with any toys they wanted to play with; ‘I bet the child is being abused’; ‘I bet these children are from a broken home’; ‘I bet the mum hated men so much the child wanted to be a girl’; ‘I bet one of the parents are in a homosexual relationship’; ‘Those parents must be homophobic and preferred a trans daughter to a gay son’; ‘I bet one of the parents is transgender’.

  • We hear all of these charming comments. Parents of transgender children come from all walks of life. And whatever walk of life they happen to come from, accusations like this are thrown at us as the reason why we are in this situation. The more I see these accusations (once I get beyond my own thin skinned shock and upset at how people view us) the more clearly ridiculous these accusations appear. Try to ignore.

‘It is disgusting’. ‘It makes me sick’. ‘It is vile’. ‘These children should be taken away from their abusive parents’. ‘These horrendous narcissistic parents should be locked up’

  • Yes we hear a lot of this too, some things aren’t worth the effort of engagement, try to ignore.

‘Children should be able to play with any toys – you shouldn’t force your child to be a girl or a boy just because they like toys associated with the other sex’ ‘Your inability to let children play with any toys or choose what to wear is what has caused this’

  • In my view children should be able to play with any toys that they want to play with. Our child has always been able to play with any toys. For our child, this is a question of identity, not of toys or interests or behaviour or preferences. I know it is hard to understand that a child can have a clear gender identity at a young age. But you have not lived my life. Don’t judge us (and make my child’s life harsher and more filled with hate) just because you find it hard to logically understand.

‘You shouldn’t have let your child play with opposite gender toys or choose what to wear. This is what has caused this’

  • Look, I think you have some weird ideas about toys. I disagree with you on this one. But I know plenty of families who have had fairly clear gender segregated expectations and upbringings for their child, and they have also found themselves with a transgender child. So although on a case by case basis it is easy to throw insults at us parents and say ‘this is what you have done wrong’, if you met a large enough group of us, you would see that we have very little in common in terms of our parenting styles, apart from perhaps a fierce determination to try to help and protect our wonderful children. The recent Lancet review concluded there is no evidence of parental upbringing having an influence on children being transgender. So give us a break from your mean accusations.

‘There are 2 fixed genders that are very clear cut, and it is scientifically impossible to ignore this.’

  • People who quote ‘science’ in this way have a very limited understanding of science. ‘Gender’ and ‘Biological sex’ is made up of a wide variety of different elements. Sex chromosomes, which are often XX or XY, but can come in other formations. Internal sex organs (eg ovaries). External sex organs. Intersex people can have different combinations of these (eg having ovaries and XY chromosomes). Hormone levels – some people are have raised testosterone or oestrogen. Some women are unable to process androgens and have levels of testosterone typically found in males. Biologically speaking the world is much more complex than people would like to believe. The world is full of variation, it is humans (and our language and our need to classify and define) that try to put things in neat strict boxes. Some people think there is a physical aspect to gender identity, potentially linked to levels of hormones in the foetus, but like much of the brain and human development, much remains to be discovered. Beyond this, gender consists of gender identity (who you feel you are), gender expression (how you choose to dress), gender roles (how you conform with or do not conform with stereotypical gendered expectations). Life is complicated, and for some of us, that is ok.

‘My child said they were a dog for a year’ ‘My child thought they were Spiderman’ ‘My child asked us to call them an airplane’ etc.

  • Were they playing? Were they having fun? For my child, asserting that they were a girl was not a game. They would say ‘I am a girl’ with tears in their eyes. When called a boy they would hunch their shoulders with sadness. This did not pass, this did not end. Please don’t bring your glib example of your child who played at being a dog, or Spiderman or an airplane. One other reason why this is not comparable –my child’s experience matches that of a small but not tiny number of other children who have the same experience. It also matches the experience of many adults who continue to identify as transgender, and are happy to be able to find acceptance in that identity. There is no comparison with the flippant dog/ Spiderman /airplane example.

 

Phew. Made it to the end. And this time feeling a bit stronger. The same comments seem to come up time and time again with little variation no matter the publication or source.

If you are a parent of a trans or gender non-conforming child, a trans person or a trans ally and feel your eye drifting down to the comments… If you are feeling strong and want to try to educate, challenge, or simply stand up to the haters, then please do copy/paste content or link to this post.

This is the defining civil rights battle of the 21st Century. We can rise to the challenge. We can stay strong. Our children, our society needs us to.